Monday, May 27, 2013

The Survival Instinct

Many years ago, as a teenager, during a long school holiday, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in the interior, mingling with the Muruts. Among the many things that I can still remember about those good old days was how a porcupine had bitten off its own leg to free itself from a trap set by the Muruts. It made me think that the survival instinct is quite an amazing thing. In fact, not too long ago, I posted something about survival instinct in this blog here.

More recently, I read with interest the story of how a man named Aron Ralston had amputated his own right arm to free himself from a dislodged boulder. How far would one go for the sake of survival? I think there is no question that I would readily lose an arm or leg for the sake of survival, but I'm not sure if I have the guts to actually amputate my own arm and leg—I'd probably faint halfway doing it! It's not something that I'd be happy to do though; it has to be absolutely the very last option available to me.

A couple of weeks ago, Angelina Jolie made headlines when she revealed that she had had preventive double mastectomy as reported here. Jolie's case is somewhat different from that of Ralston's because in the latter case, without cutting off his arm, death was almost certain to follow very quickly. Whereas in Jolie's case, her breasts were healthy and no cancer had been diagnosed when she decided for the procedure. I think it is safe to assume that most—if not all—women would readily have a double mastectomy too if they're diagnosed with breast cancer; but I'm not sure about healthy breasts. 

It begs the inevitable question: Why remove a pair of healthy breasts?

Apparently, statistics suggest that Jolie had an 87% risk of getting cancer because of a defective gene, BRCA1 in her body. Did Jolie overreact? What do you think?

An email, forwarded by an acquaintance, reached my inbox a couple of days ago. In it, the author condemned Jolie for self mutilation; that she had been duped by doctors who were all out to make money from performing surgeries on her! He saw no sense in cutting off healthy breasts because according to him, there are many other alternative measures available to prevent breast cancer from ever developing. Amongst others, he suggested a change in lifestyle, including her diet. He claimed that some foods are good to fight cancer.

Incidentally, I know of a fair number of people who are involved in direct-selling, e,g. Amway, Cosway, Elken etc. I suspect they, too, may claim that their food supplements are good in the prevention of many, many illnesses and diseases. And perhaps they, too, would see Jolie as overreacting.

I'm not convinced that food supplements or change in diet can guarantee the prevention of cancer. I just don't believe it's that simple.

But here's the thing about cancer—once diagnosed, it is an extremely difficult disease to beat. The very mutilation that one tries so hard to prevent would become almost a certainty anyway; and even then the end result is not always favourable.

My niece was 21 years old when she was diagnosed with cancer. She was a seemingly healthy young woman with such a promising future. No history of major health problems. Yet despite several surgeries which literally amounted to the mutilation of her body, chemotherapy and months of suffering, she lost the battle less than a year later. But of course they are few who may survive cancer; the keyword here is "few".

I guess it's a close call, but if I were told that I have an 87% risk of getting cancer, I would do exactly what Jolie did. I mean, if I'm willing to lose a perfectly functioning arm or leg to save my life, then what's there to stop me from giving up my breasts, right? Beauty or pride means nothing if I'm dead!

1 comment:

eemee said...

well said Cornelius! I respect Angelina Jolie for her courage. My brother is diagnosed with nose cancer few years back, and he is the only brother among my 4 brothers that doesn't smoke. So, healthy lifestyle is a preventive way, but not a guarantee. Thus, it is understandable why A.Jolie did that. A healthy pair of breast have been removed, but with current technology and countless of accessories available in the market, I am sure she will look as gorgeous as ever.